Real Russian bells will clang at Weill Hall this Saturday when San Francisco Symphony plays Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”
San Francisco Symphony (SFS) regular guest percussionist Victor Avdienko was born and raised in San Francisco and regularly attended the Holy Virgin Cathedral Russian Orthodox Church on Geary Street but, at that time, he never heard authentic Russian bells played live. Instead, he heard plenty of recordings of majestic Russian bells which always fascinated him. It was only when he visited San Anselmo’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in September 2012 and heard the rector, Father Stephan Meholick, play a real set of bronze church bells especially for him that he understood how special they were. After that, Avdienko championed the notion of featuring Russian bells in a SFS performance and dreamed of connecting with his Russian heritage through playing them.
On Saturday evening, he’ll have his dream fulfilled when the “peal” or set of Russian bronze bells that he will play will be featured, for the first time ever, in the Symphony’s All Tchaikovsky concert at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall and Lawn. Director of Summer Concerts Edwin Outwater will be conducting SFS and Macedonian guest pianist, Simon Trpčeski, from Skopje, will play the beloved Piano Concerto No. 1. The special bells will clang for a good minute at the end of Tchaikovsky’s well-known “1812 Festal Overture,” fulfilling Tchaikovsky’s vision of bells ringing in town church towers to celebrate Russia’s victory over Napoleon. Their sound will be new and distinctive because Russian bells are polytonic (acoustical analog of polychromatic), meaning they are not tuned to any specific pitch like the orchestral bells or tubular bell chimes that we normally encounter when American orchestras perform. You can expect a rich chord of many different tones.
When ARThound learned that authentic Russian bells would be played for the “1812 Overture,” I couldn’t resist investigating further. The “1812” is a thunderous Russian tune that depicts Napoleon’s retreat from Russia in 1812. That it became a popular 4th of July song in America during the height of the Cold War is a story in itself. In short—the “1812” always had a patriotic sound and was a great piece of music but it wasn’t until 1974, when the Boston Pops under Arthur Fiedler zipped it up, playing it with fireworks, real cannons and a coordinated steeple-bell choir, that it caught on like wildfire and became an American tradition. Including Russian bells is a shout-out to the “1812’s” true roots and an exciting new tradition for SFS.
I first heard the mesmerizing clang of Russian bells twenty-five years ago in Sofia, Bulgaria, at the St. Nikolai Church, whose bells were gifted to Bulgaria by Tsar Nicholas II. That rousing sound is so emblazoned in my memory that it seems like I heard it yesterday. I had no idea that North America’s foremost experts on Russian bells, Mark Galperin, was just down the road in Marin and that he has been championing their resurgence.
Galperin is a former physicist who immigrated to Marin in 1995. In 1998, he began collaborating with Father Stephan Meholick to build a bell collection for San Anselmo’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. Galperin also dutifully manages Blagovest Bells, the largest North American full service Russian bell company which has supplied over 140 churches in North America with Russian bells. He filled me in on some basics about Russian bells—history, theology, metallurgy, design and acoustics. (Detailed information can be found on the Blagovest Bells website, http://www.russianbells.com/.) Most important is that in Russian culture and history, church bells are holy and shrouded in mystery. Their clanging is said to have the power to bring people to repentance and to dissuade sin.
In the Russian Orthodox faith, bells are understood as holy, “aural icons” that project the voice of God. Before church bells are hung, they are consecrated. An interesting feature of Russian bells is that they are cast for a certain strike tone and they are finished when cast—there are no post-production adjustments. That means they don’t have a “pure” (abstract or machine-made) tone, but instead they have natural harmonics that give each bell a slightly distinctive voice, which Galperin poetically compares to the song of a nightingale—each nightingale singing its own song in its own distinctive voice, no two songs exactly alike but all nightingale songs, all uniquely beautiful. From the musician’s perspective, Russian bells are not tuned and therefore do not behave like most bells that American musicians are familiar with.
Galperin first collaborated with SFS when he lent Blagovest Bells’ 5-bell Russian demo peal to SFS for its Keeping Score Summer Institute in June 2009. It was there that father Stephan Meholick delighted Bay Area educators with his bell ringing and shared a vital aspect of Russian culture that these teachers could then pass one to their students. Galperin also handled the loan of the St. Nicholas bells to SFS for Saturday’s concert and, over the past few days, has spent countless hours making good on his “full service” guarantee, including testing some two dozen mallets with Avdienko to get a sound that best approximates the one made with a forged iron bell clapper. (See chart at bottom of article for detailed data on the bells) Galperin is quick to point out that once Americans (and most people in general) are exposed to authentic bells, they have a real interest in them and he has an explanation for why Russian bells aren’t more widely known—
“In both Soviet Russia and American, bells experienced their own genocide for different reasons,” explained Galperin. “In Russia, they were victims of the Communist ideology. In America, they were victims of so-called electronic progress which substituted real—and actually unsubstitutable bells—with safe electronics. Sadly, the current generation of Americans has no idea of the uniqueness of bell ringing, which is different every single time. Why is this important? It’s the same reason why you pay to go to the concert of a famous singer—because each time, the song is a little different and you have a new and unique performance of a piece.”
Galperin holds it as a good sign that the tradition of using of Russian bells in classical music has continued in America in the recent works of young composers such as the popular Russian-born American composer and pianist Lera Auerbach. She used a bell peal produced by Bloagvest Bells and recorded at the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church of San Anselmo (MP 3 below) in her well-received “Russian Requiem” (2007), co-commissioned by Musikfest Bremen, Philharmonische Gesellschaft Bremen and Semana de Musica Religiosa Cuenca.
Like most stories involving Russians that I’ve reported, some wonderful connections emerged. Galperin mentioned that Blagovest Bells outfitted Victor Avdienko’s Holy Virgin Cathedral Russian Orthodox Church with a peal of 6 traditional Russian bells in 2003 and, since then, the bells are regularly rung there for Divine Services.
Festal Russian Orthodox Church Bell Ringing at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, San Anselmo. Lera Auerbach included this peal in her “Russian Requiem” (2007). Bell ringers: Fr. Stephen Meholick, Peg Golitzin, Juliana Kohl, Lea Kohl; produced by Blagovest Bells.
Pyatkov Chime by Andrei Dyachkov, led by Blagovestnik bells weighing 20,000 and 40,000 pounds, 110 seconds (courtesy Blagovest Bells)
Pyatkov Chime by Vladimir Petrovsky, called “Maestro” Petrovsky, 340 seconds (courtesy Blagovest Bells)
ARThound Interview: San Francisco Symphony guest percussionist, Victor Avdienko
When did you first hear authentic Russian bells?
Victor Avdienko: At the beginning of last season, we played Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 11 in G Minor” and needed four bells for the end of the last movement, so I went on a quest for bells which were very loud, pitched, and preferably real Russian bells. I was pointed to Mark Galperin, who gave me the history and playing tradition of Russian bells. I visited San Anselmo’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Church and met Father Stephan Meholick, who played a mini concert for me on their bells. Right then and there, I knew that I had to explore this further. It felt like I was reconnecting with something deeply Russian inside me. I’ve heard a lot of carillon music from my travels in Europe and I’ve always had that in my ear defining what bell ringing should be—that they can play tunes and melodies. The Russian style is different in that they don’t play melodies or tunes; it’s more of a prayer or meditative experience to ring these bells. Because the Russian bells aren’t pitched, we didn’t use them for the Shostakovich but I kept that sound deep in me.
What does it take to play these bells successfully?
Victor Avdienko: Ear plugs. You’re very close and you need protection. There are some definite techniques because you’re manipulating up to a dozen bells with just your four limbs. All the bell clappers are attached to strings and are either manipulated by a hand by pulling them or by foot pedals for the larger bells. One person can make a lot of sound but there are different patterns too, actual rhythms, which you can achieve with the smaller bells by holding the strings of 3 or 4 of them in one hand. Father Stephan showed me the ropes. As a percussionist, it was not too difficult to get familiar with it but, for an average parishioner, it would take many months or even years of serious practice to properly run the patterns.
Can you describe what happens for you musically in the “1812 Overture”?
Victor Avdienko: The piece is very well-known for its cannon fire that everyone looks forward to. If it’s played outdoors, they’ll often use real cannons fired off in the distance. For indoor concerts it’s usually done with a recording or with a really large drum. We’ll use a synthesized cannon sound on Saturday. The bells have always been more of an afterthought that we’ve handled with chimes. The specific passage that calls for bells is in the key of E-flat. The chimes we traditionally use can be tuned just like a xylophone or glockenspiel so you can actually play an E-flat major scale and it fits the piece and sounds like a bunch of bells in the background. When you play bells that have a definite pitch to them, you have to play in the key of E-flat for it to sound good, otherwise it just sounds like you’re hitting a bunch of random pitches. Russian bells aren’t pitched a certain way, so it’s going to be more a wall of sound coming out and it won’t make any difference which bell I hit because the bell will always sound the way it should sound. What Tchaikovsky had in mind when he wrote the piece was to have all the bells in the Russian town square play at the same time to sound like a jubilant celebration of victory over Napoleon. So we are taking it back to its authentic intention.
The bells occur twice—at the very end where there are cannons and full orchestra and that’s about a one minute section and there’s a section about two-thirds into the piece where we hear roughly the same Russian hymn that cellos open the piece with but, this time, the full orchestra is playing with the bells playing in the background. The mood is jubilant because this after the victory. I am looking forward to this. Mark and I have talked about this for two years now and I’m glad that the conductor was curious enough to let this happen.
What will you be hitting the bells with?
Victor Avdienko: I’m not sure yet. Normally, internal clappers are pulled by a string that is manipulated by a player. In the past, we’ve always used a rawhide mallet or a large acrylic beater. Mark Gaperin and I started out with about two dozen mallets. We tested about a dozen of them and settled on a special hard wood mallet engineered by a German percussion instrument design firm that very closely approximates the sound extracted by an actual bell clapper. Or, I may just go ahead and use the native forged iron clappers. It all depends on what I can get away with. We’ll either have all four bells arranged on the upper beam of a rack or they’ll be in a double tiered rack with three on top and one on the bottom.
Have you ever had a Russian conduct you in the “1812”?
Victor Avdienko: Most conductors just ‘play the ink’ as they say but when we get Russian conductors coming in, they will sometimes want to add some realism to the piece that most American orchestras don’t necessarily do. About ten years ago, Yuri Temirkanov (then Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic since 1988) asked for both a Russian choir to sing a church hymn for the opening of the overture and for real bells. At that time, I didn’t know Mark or of any Russian bells in the area, so we just pulled together all the bells we could get our hands on. SFS actually owns two European-style bells that we use for Berlioz’ “Symphony Fantastique” but those are pitched very strongly in C and G for that piece, so he sat us down and gave us a lesson in what proper Russian bell ringing should sound like and for me that was the beginning of my curiosity about Russian bells.
Any other special percussion effects in Saturday’s concert that you’re looking forward to?
Victor Avdienko: Tchaikovsky wrote very nice percussion parts. I’ve always really identified with his cymbal crashes because they are very colorful, explosive and impactful, occurring in the right moment and emotional context. In the past, for the “1812,” I’ve always really found myself in playing those cymbal crashes correctly because you have to make the sounds of artillery fire, a celebratory crash and complete jubilation and it almost requires three personalities to pull that off.
Concert Details: San Francisco Symphony’s All Tchaikovsky concert at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall and lawn is Saturday, June 26 at 8 p.m. All indoor seating is almost sold out. Lawn seating is still available at $25. Purchase tickets online here, or over the phone with the Sonoma State University Box Office at 866-955-6040. Tickets will also be available one hour prior to the performance (7 p.m.) at the Green Music Center box office. Immediately following the concert, there will be a fireworks display. Excellent Visibility: Views of the stage are amplified by giant video screens, giving everyone a “front row” experience. Snacks: A variety of food and beverages will be available for sale.
Directions: Green Music Center is located at 1801 East Cotati Drive, Rohnert Park. CA. Weill Hall and the Green Music Center are located on the campus of Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California, at the intersection of Rohnert Park Expressway and Petaluma Hill Road. From the South, take U.S. Highway 101 north to the Rohnert Park Expressway exit. At the end of the exit ramp, turn right onto Rohnert Park Expressway. Drive 2.2 miles to the Sonoma State University entrance on your right. From the North, take U.S. Highway 101 south to the Rohnert Park Expressway exit. At the end of the exit ramp turn left onto Rohnert Park Expressway. Drive 2.2 miles to the Sonoma State University entrance on your right.
Parking: Parking for this performance is complimentary. Ample parking, with excellent handicap availability, in the campus’ dedicated lot, right next to Weill Hall.
A shout out to opera devotes. Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky, a.k.a. the “Silver Fox,” the “Siberian Express” is in town. He will be performing a program of Russian classics Sunday evening at Davies Hall, accompanied by his long-time recital partner, Estonian pianist Ivari Ilja, the final concert in San Francisco Symphony’s Great Performers Series. There are plenty of great seats still available. There’s not much that can pull me away from gorgeous Sonoma County during a long holiday weekend but I’m not missing my first chance to experience this great singer live in recital, especially since I’ve been following him so avidly through the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD transmissions. There are plenty of great seats still available and, unless the situation changes dramatically by Sunday (do check!), it will be possible to just show up at the Symphony Box Office prior to the performance and select tickets on the spot without having to pay additional fees.
Hvorostovsky, who is based in Russia, has been on his North American tour since mid-May. He comes to San Francisco from L.A., where he performed Thursday at Los Angeles Opera. For his West Coast performances, he is presenting a Russian program of Pushkin-inspired romances by Glinka, Borodin, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and others as well as Shostakovich’s haunting late-period “Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti” from 1974. The rarely performed work is based on chosen texts from Michelangelo (translated into Russian). Every text has to do with the life and work of the artist, with his achievements, his set-backs, his loves and his sense of destiny. The texts are arranged into a dramatic cycle of ten songs, with an eleventh hanging at the end, which trace an arc of the poet’s life and the entire cycle has resonances of Musorgsky and Mahler, two of Shostakovich’s heroes.
You may have noticed that the Green Music Center’s newly announced 2014-15 Season is devoid of opera, which so punctuated their fabulous first season. This makes superstar Hvorostovsky’s presence in the Bay Area a treat to be savored even more. The performance will be well worth the drive in the City. Who can forget the great baritone’s last Met Opera Live in HD performance in December 2012 when he sang Renato (Count Anckarström) to Sondra Radvanovsky’s Amelia Anckarström in David’s Alden’s new production of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera”? (Both Hvorostovsky and Radvanovsky reprise their roles in the Met’s spring 2015 production of the opera with James Levine conducting.) One of the pleasures of the HD transmissions is that they are almost as good as being there BUT when you’ve got the chance to experience an artist live and help create the magic, you don’t want to miss it because it will make all the artist’s subsequent performances that you see all the more resonant. And, of course, a cinematic experience of an opera can be very different from the impression it makes in house because the camera focuses on the important details and often ignores the bigger picture. Enough said.
My colleague, music critic Sean Martinfield, who writes for Huffington Post, was lucky enough to secure the only interview that Hvorostovsky granted for this Davies appearance. (click here for full interview) Speaking on Shostakovich’s rarely performed Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti, Hvorostovsky said— “The cycle is amazing. Shostakovich wrote it for piano to begin with and then decided to re-write it for symphony orchestra which he dedicated to the first performer, Evgeny Nesterenko. The way it’s written for piano is so colorful that it sounds like an orchestra. The translation of the poetry of Michelangelo Buonarroti sounds incredible. There has only been one example, by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who decided to sing the songs in the original Italian. I think it was a failure, because you have to move the accents and stresses. The way it sounds in Russian is so complete. It is a cycle where two geniuses meet with each other and create an amazing impact of classic and contemporary. It absolutely reflects the reality we live in now.”
In 2004, Hvorostovsky, who hails from Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, became the first Russian opera singer to give a solo concert with orchestra and chorus on Red Square in Moscow and the concert was televised in over 25 countries. He has gone on to sing a number of prestigious concerts in Moscow as a part of his own special series, “Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Friends” inviting celebrated artists as Renée Fleming, Jonas Kaufmann, Marcello Giordani, Sumi Jo and Sondra Radvanovsky to join him. In 2005 he gave an historic tour throughout the cities of Russia at the invitation of President Putin, singing to crowds of hundreds of thousands of people to commemorate the soldiers of the Second World War. He now annually tours the cities of Russia and the former Eastern Europe. In the video clip below, from the famous Red Square Concert on June 19, 2013, Hvorostovsky is joined by soprano Anna Netrebko as Lev Kontorovich conducts the Masters of Choral Singing choir and Constantine Orbelian conducts the Russia State Symphony Orchestra. They sang Verdi, Puccini and Tchaikovsky, bringing the audience of 8,000 to a stunned silence with an aria from “Eugene Onegin. For the finale, Hvorostovsky sang “Dark Eyes,” one of the most famous Russian romances.
2014-15 Guest Vocalists at San Francisco Symphony: Soprano Ruth Ziesak and baritone Christain Gerhaher in Brahms’s A German Requiem (Feb 19-21, 2015); Soprano Dawn Upshaw in Ades & Upsahw (March 5-7, 2014); Mezzo Soprano Sasha Cooke and Soprano Joélle Harvey in Beethoven’s Missa solemnis (June 10-13, 2015); Soprano Karita Mattila in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (June 17 and 19, 2015); Soprano Nina Stemme in Beethoven Festival Fidelio (June 25-6, 2015) Tickets and subscription packages are on sale now.
Details: “Dmitri Hvorostovsky in Concert” is Sunday, May 25, 2014 at 8PM at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. Tickets: $15 to $84; purchase online here, or, call (415) 864-6000. For more information, visit www.sfsymphony.org.
Getting to Davies: Davies Symphony Hall is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue, at Grove Street, in San Francisco’s Civic Center, just across the street from City Hall. The main entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street.
Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the holiday weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently congestion en route to Davies Hall. Arrive early at your parking garage of choice as these also fill up early on weekends. Recommended Garages: Two garages are very close to Davies— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)
San Francisco Symphony’s Film Series—Charlie Chaplin in “City Lights” with live music at Davies Symphony Hall this Saturday, April 12, 2014
Slapstick, pathos, pantomime, melodrama, physical prowess, and, of course, the Little Tramp—all of these led renowned film critic Robert Ebert to proclaim that Charley Chaplin’s masterpiece of the Silent Era, City Lights, “comes closest to representing all the different notes of his genius.” Written by, directed by, and starring Chaplin, the enchanting romantic comedy from 1931 features Chaplin in his greatest role ever, the Little Tramp. A fellow to whom who everyman could relate, the Tramp was tossed about by life but not so battered that he couldn’t pick himself up and, with dignity, carry on. This Saturday, April 14, 2104, guest conductor Richard Kaufman, who has devoted much of his career to the music of film, conducts the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in City Lights with Orchestra. The program is part of the new SFS film series which delivers edge-of-your seat thrillers, epic dramas, and animated classics on a huge screen in gorgeous Davies Symphony Hall with live music, performed by the San Francisco Symphony. ARThound has attended several of these film nights and Davies Hall gets delightfully and refreshingly giddy as octogenarians and 8-year-olds connect over the magic of film and music.
The story: City Lights was released three years into the talkies era but Chaplin decided it should be a silent film with sound effects but no speech. His beloved Tramp had communicated very effectively with a worldwide audience exclusively through mime—Chaplin’s Little Tramp appeared in over 80 movies from 1914 to 1967—and Chaplin was not going to change the formula. In City Lights, the Tramp fixes his romantic gaze on someone who can’t return it—a spunky blind flower girl played by the luminous Virginia Cherrill. He also befriends an alcoholic millionaire (Harry Myers) who forgets who Chaplin is when he’s sober, providing some of the funniest scenes in any of Chaplin’s films. As the Tramp attempts to get money for an operation that will restore the blind girl’s sight, Chaplin exquisitely interweaves pathos and comedy to wrench maximum emotion from each scene. When the lonely millionaire contemplates suicide, it’s tragic. When the benevolent Tramp tries to save him from drowning, and accidentally ends up with a weight pinned to his own neck, Chaplin creates an ideal framework for sentiment and laughs. But that’s just one example in dozens of the seamless and brilliant storytelling that occurs in this film. The movie’s last scene, justly famous as one the great emotional moments in films is bound to bring tears to your eyes. When Chaplin’s friend, Albert Einstein, attended the Los Angeles premiere of City Lights, he was reported to be have been seen wiping his eyes. ARThound especially loves the scene where the Tramp swallows a whistle and starts whistling every time he breathes, gathering a large following of dogs and hailing taxi’s.
The delicate onscreen chemistry between Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill is a delight to behold. Cherrill had the distinction of being the only leading lady of Chaplin’s silent features whom he neither married nor was linked romantically to. He cast her solely for her photogenic beauty—without a screen test—and their strong personalities clashed and he fired her halfway through the two-year shoot, only to have to woo her back.
The music: If you haven’t yet experienced the magic of watching a silent film accompanied by live music, City Lights is the film to initiate yourself with and SFS is your orchestra. The exaggerated dynamics and exquisite timing, so integral to the visual experience of City Lights, are enlivened by a musical score which beautifully punctuates the film’s epic tragic-comic moments. This was Chaplin’s first attempt at composing the music to one of his films and he wrote many of its stirring melodies while acclaimed composers Arthur Johnston (“Pennies from Heaven”) and Alfred Newman assisted with arrangement and orchestration. The process took six weeks. And, as was customary in the scoring for silent pictures, the Wagnerian leitmotiv system was employed with Chaplin creating a distinctive musical theme identified with each character and idea.
According to Theodore Huff’s analysis of the City Lights score (“Chaplin as a Composer” in his biography Charlie Chaplin, New York, Henry Schuman, 1951, pp. 234-41), Chaplin composed twenty discrete themes and ninety-five cues, not including instrumental bits that animate the action. Not all the melodies are by Chaplin. The score generously samples other well-known tunes, either undisguised or in variational form, from “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Old Folks at Home,” and “Scheherazade” to “I Hear You Calling,” “How Dry I Am,” and “St. Louis Blues.” These mesh with Chaplin’s more generic renditions of jazz, opera, the waltz, the rhumba, the tango, the apache dance, and his blues fanfare for trumpet, a refrain throughout the film. On the whole though, the score hardly seems a generic mish-mash–it’s tailored to each scene, it amplifies emotions, comments on the action, and even creates jokes.
The legacy: When City Lights debuted in New York in 1931, it was so popular that the theater had continual showings from 9 a.m. to midnight, every day except Sunday. According to film historian Charles Maland, “by the end of 1931, the [United Artists’] ledgers reveal, City Lights had already accumulated more domestic rentals than The Circus and over 90 percent of the domestic rentals that The Gold Rush had garnered since 1925.” Critics showered it with praise as well. The Oscar for Best Cinematography in 1931, however, went to another silent film, F.W. Murnau’s Tabu. Many expected City Lights to win, but it wasn’t even nominated. As film historian William M. Drew speculated, “Perhaps Chaplin’s perceived audacity in persisting in making a silent film in Hollywood after sound had arrived … seemed too great an act of insubordination for the industry to honor.” (quotes extracted from Mental Floss Magazine, February 24, 2012)
Run-time: Approximately 80 minutes, no intermission.
Pre- and post-show Events: Arrive early and visit the lobby bars for a cocktail created especially for this concert!
- Casablanca (sparkling wine, Grand Marnier, Remy VSOP, lemon twist)
- French Connection (Grey Goose, Chambord, pineapple juice, sparkling wine, lemon twist)
Details: “City Lights with Orchestra” is Saturday, April 12, 2014 at 8PM at 8 PM at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. LIMITED AVAILABILITY Tickets: $41 to $156; purchase online here, or, call (415) 864-6000. For more information, visit www.sfsymphony.org.
Getting to Davies: Davies Symphony Hall is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue, at Grove Street, in San Francisco’s Civic Center, just across the street from City Hall. The main entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street.
Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently congestion en route to Davies Hall. Arrive early at your parking garage of choice as these also fill up early on weekends. Recommended Garages: Two garages are very close to Davies— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)
MTT conducts Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 with the San Francisco Symphony, mezzo Sasha Cooke, the SFS Chorus, and the San Francisco Girls Chorus
Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony in D Minor, the most expansive of his ten symphonies, is a cosmological tour de force. Full of magic and mystery, it’s the musical journey of Nature coming to life, at first through flowers and animals and then on up to man, the angels and the love of God. This Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) conducts the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) and mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke, the SFS Chorus, and the San Francisco Girls Chorus in this rarely performed epic—in six movements grouped into two parts—which clocks in at roughly 90 minutes, earning it the distinction of the longest symphony in the standard repertoire. It almost goes without saying that MTT has sealed his reputation on Mahler. In 2001, SFS and MTT launched the Mahler Project and recorded the balance of Mahler’s major works for voices, chorus and orchestra picking up four Grammys in the process. The Symphony No. 3 and Kindertotenlieder recording won the 2004 Grammy for Best Classical Album. Of course, nothing compares to the magic of a live MTT/SFS Mahler performance. Whether it’s your first or 50th time, each performance reflects a constantly evolving understanding of the composer’s genius and complexities.
At Monday’s press conference announcing the 2014-15 season, Tilson Thomas, could not recall how many times SFS has played the work during his 19 year tenure as Music Director (3 times—1997, 2002 and 2011) but he did speak about the joys of revisiting Mahler— “I think of these pieces, these big symphonies, like the Mahler, are like National Parks that we love and we come back to. We all know the map of the park. I have the complete map and others on stage have the intricate trail maps of one path or another. But no matter how much you look at the map of that, when you are actually on the trail, it’s a different thing every time—the nature and character of the piece will vary according to where you are in your life and what you’ve experienced and with whom you are on the trail. Sometimes, you’ll stop and smell the mimosas and other times, you’ll press ahead to get to the view of the glacier.”
Mahler wrote his Third Symphony between 1893 and 96, when he was in his mid-thirties. When the German composer and conductor Bruno Walter, visited Mahler at his composing hut in Steinbach am Attersee, Austria (some twenty miles east of Salzburg), he wrote in his memoirs that he looked up at the sheer cliffs of the colossal Höllengebirge and Mahler told him “No need to look up there any more—that’s all been used up and set to music by me.” This immense rockface inspired the introductory theme of the first movement—a grand unison chant for eight horns evoking the primitive forces of nature. A offstage horn, also figures prominently in the third movement. Heard floating in the distance, a melancholy haunting solo imitating an old posthorn or valveless coach horn creates one of Mahler’s soulfully nostalgic moments.
Grammy winner, mezzo Sasha Cooke, was radiant as Mary last summer in the world premiere of Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene at San Francisco Opera. In the summer of 2013, she performed Mahler’s Second Symphony with MTT and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. Her expressive and rich voice should be a good match for the dark fourth movement, a Nietzsche text that is sung against heavy strings. By contrast, the fifth movement is light and will feature the voice of angels—women of the SFS Chorus in three part chorus, joined later by the San Francisco Girls Chorus who enter creating lovely bell like noises and join in the exhortation “Liebe nur Gott”(“Only love God”). The symphony ends with an adagio, softly walking the edge of the sound and silence.
Cellist Margaret Tait (Lyman & Carol Casey Second Century Chair) has been with SFS since 1974 and currently heads the SFS Players Committee. At Monday’s press conference, she said. “We in the orchestra have a deep pool of shared experience, of performing this repertoire on world stages. When we come to a piece again like the Mahler’s Third Symphony, we can enter the performance with a feeling of security, of asking ‘What can we bring to the work right now that is new and fresh?’ We rely on our deep knowledge of the piece and our understanding of it over years. This is the only time I’ve had a relationship with a music director that has lasted 20 years. The orchestra and MTT have been through a lot together and it’s been a wonderful journey for the orchestra. There’s a sense that what we do is deeply American and very adventuresome. ”
Details: “MTT Conducts Mahler’s Third Symphony” is Thursday (Feb 27) at 8PM; Saturday (March 1) at 8 PM and Sunday (March 2) at 2 PM at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco. Tickets: $30 to $162; purchase online here, or, call (415) 864-6000. For more information, visit www.sfsymphony.org.
Getting to Davies: Davies Symphony Hall is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street, in San Francisco’s Civic Center, just across the street from City Hall. The main entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently congestion around the toll-plaza. Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up on weekends. Recommended Garages: Two garages are very close to Davies— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)
Celebrating the harvest with Sonoma County vigneron Wayne Roden and his colleagues from the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
The morning after the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) gave its September 12 concert—the first in a four concert series at Green Music Center this season—a selection of orchestra members assembled for another kind of performance altogether, this one starting at 6:30 a.m. and involving pruners rather than tuners. The venue was a small vineyard just West of Cotati, on the farm of long-time San Francisco Symphony violist Wayne Roden and his wife, novelist Barbara Quick. Instead of the usual white tie and tails, the dress code for this performance was denim and sneakers. The highly-educated and accomplished harvest crew—including relatives and friends, fiddle players from SFS and a dog named Sophie—all showed up at the crack of dawn to help harvest and crush a bumper crop of Pinot noir.
The idea for the harvest party came about two years ago when Barbara convinced Wayne to do what they do in France during the vendange, when friends and family who help harvest the grapes are rewarded with a lavish feast afterwards.
Even though ARThound doesn’t play an instrument, I’d heard about the fun they had at the last harvest and was keen to hang out with these musicians, several of whom I’ve interviewed in the past couple of years. So, I too, was there—ready to lend a hand, to record the morning’s activities in a series of photos and, of course, to taste such delicacies as Barbara’s roasted heirloom tomato quiche, her heirloom tomato caprese, home-made pesto and amazingly sweet roasted cherry tomatoes, all of which came from her own garden harvest.
When Wayne first decided to move from San Francisco to Sonoma County, he was thinking about horses rather than grapevines. But the favorable meso-climate of the little farm he bought 25 years ago, as well as his appreciation for Sonoma County’s wonderful wines, inspired him to join the growing league of hobby wine-makers. With the help of his grown son, film-maker Sam Roden, he planted a tenth of an acre in Pinot noir and Pinot gris. Seven years later, he is now in the process of vinifying the sixth vintage of his wonderfully delicious, Burgundian style Pinot Noir. (A glass of the 2012 frankly blew me away with its uniquely spicy, subtle dark-chocolate aromas.)
It’s been a great year for grapes and this was Wayne’s biggest harvest yet—782 pounds of Pinot noir and 168 of Pinot gris. This year’s musician-powered harvest should yield 325 bottles of the red stuff and 50 of the white.
Just as some of the finest houses of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or grow their grapes on miniscule but devoutly tended plots of land, Wayne nurtures his 275-or-so vines with the same diligence and artistry he devotes to playing the viola. He says it’s hard for him to imagine not being a member of the Symphony after 40 years of playing and touring around the globe with SFS. But if and when he does retire, he thinks he might like to turn his hobby into a small-scale, boutique wine-making operation.
Sam and Barbara recently collaborated on designing a new label for Roden Wines, featuring an image of a fine old violin. Once a musician, always a musician!
San Francisco Symphony gets a visit from Hollywood—director Steven Spielberg and composer John Williams are teaming up for a concert at Davies on Monday, September 16, 2013
We all love the movies! Late summer always ushers in the film festival season, a slate of new films and a focus on things cinematic. This year, San Francisco Symphony’s (SFS) programing features a variety of concerts and film screenings that let us appreciate the brilliant composers whose melodies set the mood and atmosphere of our favorite films. On Monday, September 16, 2013, SFS is going Hollywood when Davies Hall welcomes award-winning composer John Williams and acclaimed director Steven Spielberg for “Williams and Spielberg: Maestros of the Movies,” an impressive evening of music conducted by Williams and film screenings introduced by Steven Spielberg.
Williams and Spielberg have collaborated for more than 40 years on iconic Hollywood films including “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Schindler’s List,” and the “Indiana Jones” series. Williams returns to conduct SFS in selections from those film scores and others from his celebrated career, such as the “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” series.
During the second half of the performance, Spielberg will join his longtime collaborator on stage to present selections from their work together, including film clips projected on a large screen. Williams, now 81, has composed scores for 26 of Spielberg’s 27 feature films to date. He’s received 48 Academy Award nominations and has been awarded five Academy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards and 21 Grammys.
Program: John Williams conducts San Francisco Symphony with special guest host Steven Spielberg
Richard Whiting (arr. John Williams) — Hooray for Hollywood (with film)
John Williams — Suite from Far and Away
John Williams— Three Pieces from Harry Potter
John Williams— “Dartmoor, 1912” from War Horse
John Williams — Star Wars Main Title
John Williams — Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (with film)
John Williams — The Circus Train Chase from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (with film)
John Williams — “The Duel” from The Adventures of Tintin (with film)
John Williams — Theme from Schindler’s List
John Williams — “Adventures on Earth” from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Concert Length: Approx. 2 hours, including intermission.
Steven Spielberg and John Williams discuss their collaboration in the AFI (American Film Institute) and TCM (Turner Classic Movies) “ART OF COLLABORATION” series with this 2011 audience “sit down.”
Williams will do a seventh “Star Wars” score: While the SFS concert is all about Williams and Spielberg, we can’t ignore his integral role in the Star Wars series. In late July, it was confirmed that Williams, who scored all six Star Wars films, will return for the seventh installment in the series. Star Wars: Episode VII has no name yet and is set to come out in 2015. Williams has not been briefed on the storyline, but the movie will be directed by J.J. Abrams. “I’ve loved doing the Star Wars films with all the fanfare and flourish,” said Williams in a Lucasfilm video interview. “The galaxy far, far away — I feel like I’m still in it, like I never really left it.”
Spielberg Tops Forbes list: There is hardly anyone in Hollywood who can compare to Steven Spielberg and that comes right from Forbes who recently declared him the Top-Paid Man in Entertainment, earning $125 million in the 6/2-12-6/2013 time-frame that the stats were collected for the 2013 honor. At 66, Spielberg is still a vital force in Hollywood. Last year’s Lincoln was a critical and financial success, earning 12 Oscar nominations and $275 million at the global box office. Two new TV shows from his Amblin Television, Under the Dome and The Americans, are hits, and he’s an executive producer on the upcoming fourth film in the lucrative Transformers franchise. There’s also the money he earns from his incredible history in Hollywood as the top-grossing director of all time. He is a principal partner of DreamWorks Studios. Among his myriad honors, he is a three-time Academy Award winner.
Other film projects of the San Francisco Symphony: SFS is presenting a number of other special film programs with orchestral accompaniment during the 2013-14 season, including a week of Hitchcock films—Psycho, The Lodger, Vertigo, and Hitchcock!— all with live musical accompaniment, during the week of Halloween. The season also includes a two-night screening of the film White Christmas, A Night at the Oscars, Chaplin’s City Lights, and Disney’s Fantasia in Concert.
Details: “Williams and Spielberg: Maestros of the Movies” is Monday, September 16, 2013 at 8 PM at Davies symphony Hall, San Francisco. Tickets and information: This highly-anticipated concert sold out long ago but a number of premier orchestra seats have been released for $139. Purchase at www.sfsymphony.org or by phone at (415) 864-6000.
Getting to Davies: Davies Symphony Hall is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street, in San Francisco’s Civic Center, just across the street from City Hall. The main entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a 15 to 30 minute back-up on Highway 101 South from Sausalito onwards due to congestion around the toll-plaza. Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up. Recommended Garages: Two garages are very close to Davies— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)
As an appetizer to the delights that await us at Weill Hall in its second year, the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) heads North this Thursday, September 12, for “MTT conducts Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1,” the first in a four concert series at Green Music Center (GMC) scheduled for the 2013-14 season. In his only GMC performance this season, Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), who became SFS Music Director in 1985, will lead SFS in a program that includes the highly-anticipated West Coast premiere of young Canadian conductor Zosha Di Castri’s “Lineage.” Di Castri, 28, is the first recipient of a New Voices Commission a program conceived of by MTT in collaboration with SFS, the New World Symphony Orchestra and publishing house Boosey & Hawkes. The headliner is renowned guest pianist, Yefim Bronfman, who joins SFS for Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, one of the musical icons of Russian Romanticism and one of Bronfman’s signature offerings. SFS also plays Prokofiev’s otherworldly, outrageous, and over-the-top Third Symphony, based on material from the composer’s daring opera The Fiery Angel.
Program—Michael Tilson Thomas conducts SFS, with guest artist Yefim Bronfman
Zosha Di Castri
Concert is approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes, including intermission
Inside Music at 7 PM: Composer Zosha Di Castri and Peter Grunberg, musical consultant to SFS and Musical Assistant to MTT, will give an informative talk. Free to ticketholders.
Yefim Bronfman— Affectionately known as Fima, Yefim Bronfman has been a frequent guest of the San Francisco Symphony since 1984. He last performed with MTT and the Orchestra at Davies Symphony Hall and the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University in December 2012 in concerts of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5. Among his recent recordings is one of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 with Mariss Jansons and the Bayerischer Rundfunk (2007) on Sony. He performed Magnus Lindberg’s Piano Concerto No. 2, commissioned for him, with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic and released on the Da Capo label. This year The Wall Street Journal praised Bronfman as “a fearless pianist for whom no score is too demanding,” and added, “…a more poetic touch has lately complemented his brawny prowess.”
Zosha Di Castri talks with Jeff Kaliss of San Francisco Classical Voice about “Lineage.” Video by Beth Hondi
Zosha Di Castri— The inaugural New Voices composer, Zosha Di Castri is a Canadian composer and pianist living in New York. She is currently pursuing doctoral studies in composition at Columbia University, studying with Fred Lerdahl and teaching composition, electronic music, and music history. Her work has been performed in Canada, the US, and Europe by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the Internationale Ensemble Modern Akademie, L’Orchestre de la Francophonie, the NEM, JACK Quartet, L’Orchestre national de Lorraine, members of the L.A. Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Talea Ensemble. She has participated in residencies at the Banff Center, Domaine Forget, the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne’s Forum, and the National Arts Centre’s summer program. She was named a laureate of the 3rd International Composer’s Competition for the Hamburger Klangwerktage Festival, won two SOCAN Foundation awards for her chamber music in 2011, and in 2012, tied for the John Weinzweig Grand Prize for her first orchestra piece Alba, commissioned by John Adams and Deborah O’Grady and premiered at the Cabrillo Festival in 2011. Recently, her work Cortège garnered her the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music.
Di Castri’s work includes interdisciplinary collaborations in the realms of electronic music, sound installation, video, performance art, and contemporary dance. Her latest mixed-media works include Akkord I for flute, piano, electronics, and large sculpture, and a collaboration with choreographer Thomas Hauert of the ZOO Contemporary Dance Company on a new piece for electronics and dance at Ircam in Paris. She is also creating a new evening-length work for ICE in collaboration with David Adamcyk for ICElab 2014.
Details: “MTT conducts Tchaikovsky” is September 12, 2013 at 8 PM at Green Music Center. Tickets $156-$20. Advance ticket purchase for SFS at Green Music Center must be made through the SFS Box Office Box Office at (415) 864-6000 or online here. You can choose your seat yourself only by phone; if you purchase tickets in advance online, best available seating will be assigned. Tickets can also be purchased on September 12 in person at the Green Music Center Box Office one hour before the performance. As of Tuesday morning, there was amply orchestra seating available.
For more information about San Francisco Symphony, visit http://www.sfsymphony.org/index.aspx
For more information about the Green Music Center, visit www.gmc.edu.
Let the Party Begin! San Francisco Symphony’s Open Night Gala is Tuesday September 3, 2013 with Broadway Superstar Audra McDonald as guest soloist
The San Francisco Symphony (SFS) opens its 102nd season with its always stellar, always glamorous Opening Night Gala at Davies Symphony Hall on Tuesday, September 3, 2013. This year, Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and the SFS Orchestra will host guest soloist Audra McDonald for the evening’s concert of gems from the classic American songbook including hits from My Fair Lady and West Side Story. If you’ve never heard McDonald’s luminous soprano or experienced the way she energetically embraces an audience, you’re in for a treat. And glittering Davies on a party night is a spectacle to behold. The evening kicks off long before the concert—there’s a 5PM cocktail reception, followed at 6PM by four simultaneous dinners: the Patrons’ Dinner inside of Louise M. Davies Tent Pavilion (sold-out); the Wattis Room Dinner (accommodates 70); the Symphony Supper inside of the Grand Rotunda-City Hall (accommodates 300); and the Symphonix Dinner inside of City Hall’s North Light Court (accommodates 200). All of the dinner packages include preferred seating for the performance. Guests who don’t opt for those packages will have their choice of 1st Tier seating for $295 or 2nd Tier for $160 and will have access to complimentary wine reception in the stunning hall before the concert, and a hopping after-party (~ 10PM) in the Tent Pavilion and on Grove Street, with live music, dancing, food, and an open bar (all included in the ticket price). One of San Francisco’s most important social events, the gala’s proceeds benefit the Orchestra’s artistic, community, and education programs, which provide music education to more than 75,000 Bay Area school children each year.
2013 OPENING NIGHT GALA CONCERT PROGRAM:
Michael Tilson Thomas conductor
Audra McDonald soprano
San Francisco Symphony
Antheil Jazz Symphony
Bernstein/Comden & Green “A Little Bit in Love” from Wonderful Town
Bernstein/Sondheim “Somewhere” from West Side Story
Bernstein/Comden & Green “A Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man” from Wonderful Town
Bernstein/Lerner “My House” from Peter Pan and “Take Care of This House” from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (Medley)
Kander/Ebb “First You Dream” from Steel Pier
Edwards “He Plays the Violin” from 1776
Styne/Merrill “The Music that Makes Me Dance” from Funny Girl
Styne/Comden & Green “Make Someone Happy” from Do Re Mi
Loewe/Lerner “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady
Gershwin An American in Paris
Singer and actress Audra McDonald (now 42) became a three-time Tony Award winner by the age of 28 for her performances in Carousel, Master Class, and Ragtime, placing her alongside Shirley Booth, Gwen Verdon and Zero Mostel by accomplishing this feat within five years. She won her fourth in 2004 for her role in A Raisin in the Sun, a role she reprised for a 2008 television adaptation, earning her a second Emmy Award nomination. On June 10, 2012, McDonald scored her fifth Tony Award win for her portrayal of Bess in Broadway’s The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess tying a record held by Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris for most Tony Awards won by an actor. She also maintains her ties to classical repertoire with an active concert and recording career, performing song cycles and operas as well as concerts throughout the U.S.
McDonald first appeared with the SFS at the 1998 Opening Gala, performing songs by George Gershwin. A few weeks later, she joined the SFS on tour to open Carnegie Hall’s season with a special Gershwin 100th Birthday Celebration. The performance with the SFS marked her Carnegie Hall debut, and was both broadcast as a PBS Great Performances special and recorded for RCA Red Label.
McDonald’s recent television appearances include four seasons as fertility specialist Naomi Bennett on the ABC series “Private Practice.” Her film roles include Cradle Will Rock, Object of My Affection, It Runs in the Family, Best Thief in the World, and Seven Servants.
McDonald’s first solo album in seven years, Go Back Home, was released May 21, 2013 and includes songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb, Stephen Sondheim, Adam Gwon and other composers.
SFS FALL CONCERTS. The San Francisco Symphony’s fall concert season includes MTT and the Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 (Sept 18, 19, 20, 21) and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in January during the Beethoven-Bates Festival. Composer Thomas Adès will perform with members of the Orchestra on October 3, 2013 during the Mendelssohn-Adès Festival, in a new chamber music program featuring two of his own compositions. A Halloween week of Alfred Hitchcock films includes the first-ever screenings with live orchestra of the film Vertigo (November 1), and Psycho (October 30). In November, R&B balladeer Natalie Cole sings with SFS. There are a number of holiday concerts and chamber music programs as well. In March, the stupendous French soprano, Natalie Dessay, will appear in recital.
SFS at Weill Hall: MTT conducts Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall on Thursday, September 12, 2013. Stay-tuned to ARThound for subsequent coverage of SFS at Weill Hall. Due to the popularity of performances conducted by MTT, this concert, the only appearance of MTT at Weill Hall this season, is expected to sell-out, so advance ticket purchase is highly-recommended. In addition to special guest pianist Yefim Bronfman playing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, one of his signature offerings, the concert also features the West Coast premiere of “Lineage” by young Canadian composer Zosha Di Castri. The work was commissioned as part of the SFS New Voices partnership with the New World Symphony and Boosey & Hawkes. Tickets need to be purchased through SFS.
Details: The SFS 2013 Opening Gala is Tuesday, September 3, 2013. Dinner packages can be purchased from the SFS Volunteer Council at (415) 503-5500. All dinner reservations should be made by Saturday, August 31, 2013. Concert tickets are $160 and $295 and include a complimentary pre-concert wine reception, as well as access to the after-party in the Tent Pavilion and on Grove Street. These tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 415-864-6000 or in person at the SFS box office located on Grove Street at Franklin Street.
Getting to Davies: Davies Symphony Hall is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street, in San Francisco’s Civic Center, just across the street from City Hall. The main entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow AMPLE time when driving into San Francisco and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. This is the first operational day of the Bay Bridge and there may still be heavy traffic. Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up gala week. Recommended Garages: Two garages are very close to Davies— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)
Whether it’s folk, pop, opera, languid ballads like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” or acting on the big screen—no matter what he’s up to—vocalist and songwriter Rufus Wainwright remains one of the most unique and fascinating performing artists around. Luminous, he seems to radiate intoxicating otherworldliness, coupled with sadness and loneliness that make it almost impossible to take one’s eyes off of him when he’s performing. And that voice! It ranges from the depths of bass to soaring tenor heights. Affectionately referred to by Elton John as “the greatest songwriter on the planet” and praised by The New York Times for his “genuine originality,” Grammy nominee Wainwright, 39, has established himself as one of the greats of his generation. Wainwright performs solo and will accompany himself on the piano and guitar, Sunday, June 9, 2013 at Davies Symphony Hall.
A frequent performer in Bay Area venues including Davies Symphony Hall throughout his career, Wainwright performed with the SF Symphony in 2010 under conductor Michael Francis, premiering Five Shakespeare Sonnets, Wainwright’s own large scale orchestrations of five of the eleven songs he composed for a theatrical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets with director Robert Wilson. If Sunday’s performance takes anything from his last appearance at Davies, it will be Wainwright’s genius with messing with form to create songs that bear his own stamp. Following several significant and dramatic events in his life—the birth of his daughter, Viva, who was conceived with childhood friend Lorca Cohen, the daughter of Leonard Cohen; the death of his mother, Canadian folk-singer Kate McGarrigle; and his engagement (and subsequent marriage) to partner Jorn Weisbrodt—his seventh studio album, Out of the Game, was released in 2012 with the input of a new collaborator, celebrated British producer and DJ, Mark Ronson. It’s been hailed as his “pop recording” but it’s far from reductive. He plays guitar and produces songs that allude to 1950s rock, light 1970s funk, Southern California folk-pop and music hall by way of the Beatles. “But even in his closest approach to current pop — “Bitter Tears,” with synthesizer chords and a thumping Euro dance beat — Mr. Wainwright is still stubbornly himself.” (Jon Pareles, New York Times 5.10.2012)
OPERA, stubbornly: Wainwright’s life is the stuff of opera—child of Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, he was raised in an atmosphere where the creative juices and drama flowed freely. His first opera, Prima Donna, was quite an undertaking for someone with no formal music education—it premiered at the Manchester International Festival in 2009 and had its North American debut in Toronto at the Luminato Festival in 2010. In 2008, Wainwright made the news when the language of the libretto got him in a dispute with its would-be commissioners— the Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center Theatre. Wainwright wanted the opera to be in French but the sponsors insisted that a new opera should be in English as their respective creative teams all were native English speakers and the accompanying creative workshops would all be conducted in English. They also proposed a very late—2014—production date. Wainwright so said, “no thank you” and then promptly moved on, achieving his vision.
Prima Donna, written in French with English subtitles (and co-written by Bernadette Colomine), follows an acclaimed, but forgotten soprano, Regine Saint Laurent, who is preparing a return to the stage in the role she was known for, “Alienor d’Aquitaine.” Convinced her voice is forever gone, Regine has high anxiety about reprising the role. In her quasi-deranged state, she latches on to a young journalist who is all too ready to lavish attention on her. The New York Times said, “There are inspired touches and disarmingly beautiful passages in this mysterious, stylistically eclectic work in Rufus Wainwright’s first opera…” The London Times declared, “…the Canadian singer-songwriter hasn’t just written an opera. He’s written a love song to opera, soaked in the perennial operatic themes of loss, betrayal, delusion and nostalgia, and saturated in the musical styles of opera’s golden age.” Excerpts have been performed with the Oregon Symphony for The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival and at the Royal Opera House in London. The work received a 2011 Dora Award for Outstanding New Musical/Opera and made its U.S. debut in 2012 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House.
Director George Scott also made a fascinating documentary “Rufus Wainwright: Prima Donna” (2009, 60 min), which airs periodically on the Sundance Channel and delves into Wainwright’s forays with opera long before his first formal opera, Prima Donna was conceived.
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: “Prima Donna” documentary trailer
COMMEMORATIVE FILM: Australian actress and documentary filmmaker Lian Lunson’s Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You: A Concert for Kate McGarrigle (2012, 107 min) produced a lush and intimately shot hybrid documentary/concert film on Wainwright’s mother, Canadian folk legend, Kate McGarrigle, who passed in January 2010 of Clear-cell sarcoma. The film screened at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival in May 2013 and weaves many treasured clips of Wainwright performing as a child, as a young adult and with his sister, Martha Wainwright into the tribute. The May 2011 concert, the subject of Lunson’s film, was hosted by Rufus and Martha Wainwright in honor of their late mother at New York City’s Town Hall Theatre. It features performances of McGarrigle songs both famous (e.g. “Heart Like A Wheel”) and obscure (e.g. “I Am A Diamond”). Accompanying the Wainwright siblings in this performance are such friends and admirers as Emmylou Harris, Jimmy Fallon, Norah Jones, and Michael Ondaatje. Rufus and Martha sing most of the songs and speak in several pre-taped vignettes interspersed between songs. Their voices resonate with sadness and gratitude in this mesmerizing portrait of their mother.
Wainwright has also acted in Academy Award-winning director Deny Arcand’s film, L’Age des Tenebres (2007), the Merchan-Ivory film Heights (2005), and the major blockbuster The Aviator (2004), directed by Martin Scorsese.
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT performs Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (Live at The Fillmore)
Pre- and post-show Events—Come early, relax, and treat yourself at the Tier with a Twist on the Second Tier. A fresh way to take in a concert this summer, the Tier with a Twist offers food and drinks in the updated Second Tier bar. The added bonus? Take your beverage to your seat and use the free wifi! It’s the Second Tier—with a twist.
Tickets and information: “An Evening with Rufus Wainright” is Sunday, June 9, 2013 at 8 p.m. at Davies Symphony Hall. Tickets: $22-88. For tickets and information, visit www.sfsymphony.org or phone at (415) 864-6000.
Getting to Davies: Davies Symphony Hall is located at 201 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street, in San Francisco’s Civic Center, just across the street from City Hall. The main entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco on the weekend and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there is frequently a 15 to 30 minute back-up on Highway 101 South from Sausalito onwards due to congestion around the toll-plaza. Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up on weekends. Recommended Garages: Two garages are very close to Davies— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block)(Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larken Streets) (both have flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights)
Up Thursday at Weill Hall—San Francisco Symphony performs Carter, Ravel and Gershwin, with David Robertson, conductor, and Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Ravel, who heard jazz in Harlem with Gershwin, was utterly dazzled by Rhapsody in Blue, which Gershwin played at a birthday party for the French composer. The piece, composed in 1924, epitomized modern urban sophistication. Ravel’s jazz-influenced Concerto for the Left Hand, written six years later, was created for a pianist grievously injured during the First World War. The brooding work is held up as a brilliant distillation of Ravel’s rarely revealed sinister side. Both these pieces reflect the arrival of jazz into the concert hall. Ravel’s La Valse (1919-20) pays homage to the Viennese waltz and suggests a furious and dark farewell to the gentility of post-war Europe. Eliot Carter’s non-traditional Variations for Orchestra, from 1955, is not as accessible. Nothing Carter does in this fragmentary piece is traditional. He even varied from the traditional way of exploring variation— where a single theme was the basis of a series of contrasting variations. Besides the official theme, which is an extended and twisting melodic line, Carter’s piece has two other melodic ideas that are subjected to bold variation: scale-like patterns of notes, one that picks up speed as it unfolds, and another that slows down. It’s exhilarating, abrupt, fitful, and quite intriguing. This multilayered piece has not been performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 50 years!
The common thread in all of these pieces…the changing of the times! San Francisco Symphony with David Robertson, conductor, and Marc-André Hamelin on piano, performs all four pieces in its last concert of Green Music Center’s (GMC’s) inaugural season this Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 8 p.m.
The treat: another chance to hear a world-class pianist, Marc-André Hamelin, on Weill Hall’s Steinway in what promises to be a spell-binding one-handed performance of Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand. Hamelin, who made his SF Symphony debut in 2006, is the known for “hurling himself with gusto” into his performances. We’ll expect a full display of agility, precision and passion on Thursday as he tackles the Ravel and reinvigorates Gershwin’s beguiling masterpiece, Rhapsody in Blue, which, sadly, has been so played to death with such mediocrity that we’ve lost touch with its power.
Robertson leads Ravel and Gershwin will also be performed at Davies Symphony Hall, in San Francisco, on Wednesday, May 22, Friday, May 24 and Saturday, May 25, 2013.
Ravel | La Valse
Details: For tickets and information, call (415) 864-6000 or visit www.sfsymphony.org.